As I write, the House of Lords are debating Lord Falconer’s proposed ‘Assisted Dying Bill’ that would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal substance to terminally ill people who want to die and who in the opinion of two doctors have no more than six months to live. Patients would self-administer the lethal agent. Those seeking death within the remit of the law must demonstrably be of sound mind for sanctioning their decision. The proposed Bill raises controversial issues such as measures to assure that vulnerable patients will not be placed under pressure to terminate their lives. Baroness Grey-Thompson, the high profile disability campaigner and paralympian said it was a ‘chilling prospect’, but the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, backs the Bill, after considering the case of Tony Nicklinson who had locked-in syndrome, but could not end his life to curtail his suffering.
Whatever the ins and outs of this debate, the reality of long term suffering begs the question asked by many people, “Why does God allow suffering?” I doubt there is a bigger stumbling block that comes between unbelievers and God than this one. “Why should a God of love even dream of creating a world in which there is so much suffering?”
Much suffering is of our own making. Inherently we are self-centred and self-willed. We seek power, wealth and to satisfy our desires. We are essentially depraved, i.e., immoral, wicked and corrupt, but none of us will own up. Because of our actions we inflict pain on others, sometimes physical and often mental. Yesterday, a Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine causing the loss of life to all onboard. The pain and misery that event brings to relatives and friends is unimaginable. Wherever we look in the world there is strife - all because of our depravity.
Not all suffering is as a result of our direct actions, but there is what we term, ‘natural disasters’; sometimes referred to as ‘acts of God’. As inhabitants of the earth we have shirked our responsibilities and we have pillaged the earth’s resources; we have damaged the eco-structure: forests have been destroyed, seas polluted and countless billions of carbon particles have been pumped into the atmosphere. We therefore have partial blame for what happens within the sphere of nature on a cataclysmic scale, even contributing to forces leading to hurricanes, unprecedented rainfall and droughts.
God is not aloof in these matters. He knows more than any of us what is going on. Indeed, He is Sovereign of the Universe, since He made it. He sustains it as it is, and He will bring all things to an end. Why? - For His own loving purposes. He wants to share His love with us. He wants us to have a share in His heavenly kingdom. We can have shares in that kingdom right now by kneeling before Him and confessing our depravity and renouncing our past ways with genuine sorrow for our hurt to our friends, family and those with whom we have contact, but most of all for our failure to love God and accept His rule over our lives.
God sent His beloved Son into the world to show us His love. No one has suffered more than the Son of God. He died a horrendous death on a cross and suffered beyond measure; physically, mentally and spiritually, all because He loves us. Without taking on such suffering He could not have paid the price of forgiveness for all of our transgressions, i.e., our lack of reverence to God who created us, and our hurt to others and us.
Such an understanding puts pain and suffering into a different perspective. Without pain and suffering we would not know truly what it is like to be without them, nor would we be able to truly appreciate life without them. This life can seem an eternity for one who is in continual pain and there seems little solace for the sufferer, except that one day it will come to an end. Those who suffer are not alone, because those who love them also suffer since they ‘feel’ for the one they love.
On a day of the Lord’s choosing an end will come when all will be judged for what they have done, said and thought. Without the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus there would be no one who is able to stand before the Supreme Judge and say, “I am not guilty. I am spotless before You because of what Your Son Jesus has done for me. I stand before You in His righteousness. I thank you Lord, for your love and forgiveness.”
After that day of judgement, for believers there will be no more pain, only love and peace with God, but for those who reject the Son of God who suffered death on a cross and rose to life again, God’s wrath remains on them.
‘He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does no believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.’ (John 3:36)
Assisted dying law would lessen suffering says Falconer
Assisted-dying Legislation in the UK
Assisted dying: what’s at stake in the Lords debate?
Tanni Grey-Thompson: Assisted dying 'a dangerous path'